Computer Science Rising to the Top as a K-12 Priority in Colorado

February 9, 2018

What are the jobs of the future and how can we prepare kids for these jobs? How do teachers keep up with emerging technology? These questions are being discussed daily in schools, districts, colleges, state and national legislatures–as well as in business meetings and at the kitchen table.

“Technology is the backbone of many of our jobs across the board this year,” said Kim Castro, executive editor at U.S. News, in the January 2018 article U.S. News Announces the 2018 Best Jobs. “Nearly every type of company is looking for people who can analyze and interpret data to solve problems. This technological boom is creating new opportunities for statisticians, engineers and software developers – these workers are developing the algorithms that are rapidly changing the global job market.”

The technology skills that are necessary for today’s graduates extend far beyond knowing how to use computers and smart phones, explains Christine Liebe, Computer Science Content Specialist at the Colorado Department of Education (CDE). “Students have been learning how to use computers for many years (digital literacy); computer science is a discipline in which students explore foundational concepts related to creating hardware, software, programming, and user interfaces.” Liebe said.

Computer science (CS) is a critical area of growth for Colorado’s economy, and thousands of computing jobs in the state remain unfilled each year. The future is now, and while professional development for teachers that is focused on CS principles and practices is a priority for many school districts, the costs associated with training, travel, and substitute coverage can often strain school and district budgets.

State-Funded Professional Development Grants Available Now

One solution for Colorado school districts is Senate Bill 17-296, passed in 2017 to appropriate funds for CS education (CSEd) grants for teachers. The objective of the bill is to promote intensive, high-quality professional learning activities that focus on increasing teachers’ computer science content knowledge.

This legislation and the resulting grant program is in response to a common scenario in Colorado: Students who graduate from high school with a mastery of computer science skills are desperately needed to fill thousands of computing jobs across the state. However, public school teachers equipped with expertise in computer science principles and practices are in short supply, leaving a gap between identified curriculum needs and instructor availability­–a gap that is particularly wide for our students in rural Colorado.

CDE is administering the CSEd grants, with $400,000 available for distribution in the 2017-18 school year. Colorado public school districts and local education agencies are eligible to apply for $10,000 grants, which can be utilized in a manner that aligns with district professional development needs.

CEI Offering Scholarships for Grant Recipients

The grants will cover tuition, fees, and equipment for teachers across a variety of disciplines, to increase student achievement in computer literacy. To ensure equitable access to these funds, The Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) is boosting the power of the grants with travel and accommodations scholarships for CS professional development.

“Travel can be an insurmountable barrier for some rural schools,” said CEI Senior Program Lead Greg Hessee. “Thanks to generous funding from the Gill Foundation, CEI is able to make sure that these professional development supports can be accessed by every school and school district regardless of zip code.”

Combined with the CSEd grants, these CEI scholarships open the door for educators to expand CS course offerings for all of Colorado’s students–a critical step in the development of tomorrow’s workforce.

The deadline for grant and scholarship applications is February 28, 2018Follow this link for additional information and application procedure.